A redditor going by /u/Porespellar had an unusual request for the /r/Vive subreddit: the creation of a specific app in the hopes that it would help treat his father’s Alzheimer’s. Vive Developer Samuel Sekandagu of Overflow (developers of Rumble, Abode, and currently working on Conductor) stepped up to make it happen.
The request centered around recent research into light therapy by Dr. Li-Huei Tsai and others at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In short, the study indicated that light pulses at the 40hz frequency work to alleviate the symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Other research by /u/Porespellar showed that vibrations in the same frequency working in concert with the light pulses could have a more pronounced effect. The tests had only been conducted on lab mice and human trials were not yet under way, but /u/Porespellar’s father was battling the worst of the disease and clinical trials for such things tend to take quite a while and have limited admissions. Fortunately, he owned a Vive – something that could potentially be used for this application. He took to the subreddit asking if anyone could make a simple app that vibrated the controls and pulsed light as described.
Enter Samuel Sekandagu, Programmer and Game Designer of Overflow, a Swedish-based two-man game design studio. He made the app rather quickly and uploaded it for the poster (or anyone else) to use completely for free. I had a quick chat with Mr. Sekandagu and asked him why he decided to step up and help out /u/Porespellar with his request as well as how difficult it was to do it. Here’s his response in his own words:
Honestly, I saw the post and thought: challenge accepted! It was more the problem solving part of my brain that responded first, then the wish to be helpful. At least consciously. My Grandma had [Alzheimer’s] towards the end. I can only imagine how it must feel to have a parent with the affliction. [It’s] a very simple app, the creation [itself] probably took less than an hour with testing and all. Then [I] uploaded it to [Google Drive] and GitHub which was a first for me. That stuff took a bit longer.
Samuel Sekandagu’s ability to make Vive applications are largely tied to his day job of working at Overflow. Following the release of their first commercial games Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim and Rumble, Overflow shifted to focus a bit more on VR with the release of Abode. Mr. Sekandagu and his partner at Overflow Artist/Game Designer Jonathan Prytz are currently working on their next VR title Conductor. Suffice to say, both he and /u/Porespellar are enthusiasts of the technology; Mr. Sekandagu stated that he’s particularly looking forward to the potential of staying within VR while developing in a future version of the Unity engine and that he’s particularly interested in Lone Echo (though he doesn’t yet own an Oculus Rift).
After the application was created, /u/Porespellar took the time to caution people about potential epilepsy hazards if they use the app as it is essentially a rapidly flashing pulse of light. Although he’s in a tough situation, he’s approaching the matter carefully and scientifically: his most recent posts indicate that he’s looking into equipment to measure brain activity and see if the experimental therapy is actually having any effect. He’s since been approached by a university researching working with a company that is developing a device for this particular type of Alzheimer’s therapy and is considering his options. I’ve reached out to him for comment and we’ll update this piece if anything new comes to light.
What do you think of the potential for VR to treat Alzheimer’s and other conditions? Games aside, what do you think is the most interesting practical application for VR? Let us know in the comments below!